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The ‘Do Nothing’ approach to illness

The “Do Nothing” Approach to Illness – Your Ticket to Wellness?




You’ve likely heard of unschooling, a homeschooling philosophy where no formal curriculum is typically used and children learn based on what they are motivated to seek out and master on their own as well as natural life experiences.

While I don’t homeschool myself and so cannot attest to the validity of this educational philosophy, I would like to suggest that open-minded parents consider a similar approach to childhood illness and even illness in themselves.   When a child seems to be coming down with a cold or flu, how about this for a novel idea:


I myself have followed the Do Nothing approach to illness for nearly 13 years.  At first I did it without even realizing exactly what I was doing and then about 9 years ago formally put it into practice after attending a talk by Dr. Tom Cowan MD about how illness is actually beneficial to the body and is a way for valuable detoxification to occur so that an improved level of vitality and maturity can be experienced by the child once the illness is over.   This talk was a light bulb moment for me as I suddenly realized that my Father, a retired Family Physician, had followed the exact same philosophy while I was growing up.

Old school medicine is to let the illness run its course, focus on rest and nourishment only, and intervene only if it becomes evident that the patient cannot handle the situation on his/her own.

My Dad’s rule of thumb was to wait 2 weeks before doing anything therapeutically to facilitate the conclusion of the illness.   The result?  He rarely if ever needed to intervene at all as my brothers and sisters and I got well just fine on our own within that span of time.

Even when I got salmonella at a fast food chicken joint when I was 13, Dad did nothing.  It was a struggle, but I recovered fine within about 10 days.  No trip to the hospital, no saline drip, no antibiotics.  I realize this might seem extreme to some people, but my Dad had his reasons and he obviously made the correct  judgment that I was strong enough to handle it on my own.

Ditto when I had strep throat the summer I turned 15.  No antibiotics were prescribed and I recovered completely.  Most interesting is that I have never gotten strep again despite repeated and close contact exposures.  My children seem immune also and have never gotten strep.  Did recovery on my own impart immunity from further strep infections that I possibly passed along to my kids? Anecdotal for sure but possibly so.

Too many parents in my view are far too quick to treat a child’s illness, either by running to the doctor for a prescription or by running to the healthfood store to obtain a natural or herbal based remedy.

Trying to stop a cold in its tracks when it is first coming on and hasn’t quite taken hold yet is not a wise approach either in my view.

Now, I don’t want to come off as anti-treatment here.  If a child is acutely ill and is obviously not handling an illness sufficiently well on his or her own, then by all means seek out assistance from the healing professional of your choice.

As for me, though, my first course of action is Do Nothing.

Echinacea to boost immunity during cold/flu season?

No way.

Elderberry syrup to ward off a cold that you feel is coming on?


A “preventative” dose of antibiotics because strep is making the rounds at school?

Absolutely not!

Garlic drops or pills for a cough?

No thanks.

Ibuprofen or Tylenol to bring down a high fever?

Why?  A child with a high fever will get well so amazingly fast if you let the fever do its job and having the child sip diluted fruit juice to provide sufficient blood sugar to fuel that cranked up metabolism will head off the risk of febrile seizures.

I don’t attempt to squelch symptoms and I don’t want to give my children’s immune system a crutch. Letting the body go through the natural progression of meeting a pathogenic challenge head-on and resolving it with no outside interference is something that I have observed to improve and elevate a child’s wellness to a whole new level.

I don’t think it’s coincidence that since I have adopted this approach, none of my children has required any sort of medication, antibiotics or otherwise.  They get well quickly with no relapse or secondary infection.

We’re going on 13 years now with no antibiotics – ever – for my children.

I think that’s a pretty decent track record!

Again, this article is not intended to suggest that antibiotics and medications are always bad.  On the contrary, they can be life saving in certain instances and I am all for using them at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way.

However, a healthy child who is simply achy and feverish from a virus is not a candidate for meds in my opinion!

Ok, I Want to Do Nothing, But I Need to Do Something!

If the Do Nothing approach strikes a chord with you, congratulations!  I think you will be pleasantly surprised and amply rewarded by implementing this approach like I have with children who rarely get sick and when they do, recover quickly with no assistance nor complications.

If you are an action oriented person, however, here are some Do Nothing suggestions that will help your child along the path to a quick recovery without in any way hampering or short circuiting the natural healing and detoxification process that is taking place:

  • Rest, rest, rest.  Our culture is way too busy and overscheduled.  Sometimes illness is just a way for the body to say “slow down and take it easy”.  Honor that message and encourage your children to just rest with no stimulation of any kind except perhaps a good book.
  • Broth and soups  Nourishment is important during illness to provide the body with the ammunition necessary to win the battle and come out on top.   There is no food better during illness than soup made with nourishing, mineral rich, and easy to digest bone broths.  If you don’t know how to make homemade soup, you need to learn.  Soups from the store are no comparison and will likely hinder the healing process instead of helping it as they have little to no nourishment and vitality zapping MSG in large amounts.
  • Chiropractic adjustment.  Some folks find that even a minor misalignment of the spine can make illness worse.  Getting a gentle adjustment to the spine can free up blockages and facilitate healing in a beneficial way.
  • Homeopathy.   I used homeopathy when my children had whooping cough (pertussis) 6 years ago.  Homeopathy works with the body, not against it and does not stifle any of the natural healing mechanisms.   A homeopathic remedy can prove useful in certain cases of illness particularly if it is a chronic condition that doesn’t seem to resolve on its own permanently.
  • Cleansing baths.   Jumping in a warm tub of epsom salts to get the elimination routes flowing via the skin and the colon can be extremely helpful.  This is the only thing I will do if I feel “a cold coming” on as it assists the detoxification that brought the cold on in the first place.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

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